The Best Carpet Cleaner
How We Found the Best Carpet Cleaners
4 experts interviewed
10 cleaners tested
3 top picks
The Best Carpet Cleaner
Whether it’s for tackling the mud your kids trailed in or just annual touching up, a carpet cleaner is designed to remove deep stains and bacteria, and preserve your carpet. To find the best machine, we spoke to three cleaning experts, wantonly ruined some pristine white carpet, and embarked on a cleaning spree with 10 carpet cleaners. Our top picks for the best home carpet cleaner knocked out tough stains while being easy to operate and hassle-free to maintain.
How We Chose the Best Carpet Cleaner
There wasn’t a great deal of variety in the home carpet cleaner field — most models were made by the same few big brands, and each brand produced several fairly similar cleaners. To put the very best through the wringer in hands-on testing, we rounded up the 10 best-rated carpet cleaner machines — popular models on Amazon, Walmart, and Target, as well as winners of “best-of” lists on Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping. Overall, big names such as Hoover, Bissell, and Rug Doctor dominated the list, though our finalists were a diverse bunch ranging from $99 to $469.
To really put our contenders to the test, we bought the whitest carpet we could find (Mohawk SmartStrand, made of synthetic triexta fibers) and treated it horribly. We purposefully picked the gnarliest and most headache-inducing stains carpet owners talked about online, from viscous syrups to chunky sauces. In all, we dumped 20 cups of garden soil, two jars of marinara sauce, six bottles of nail polish, one bottle of chocolate syrup, two bottles of red wine, and 10 cups of coffee into the carpet. And we let it sit in a warm room for four days. We did stop in once or twice to "well-meaningly" scrub the stains with water — a common first response in the aftermath of a stain — since this doesn't actually remove stains but tends to set them further.
Though all of the contenders left the carpet whiter than before, most failed to get out the last few smudges of greasy marinara sauce and sticky chocolate syrup. And none of our contenders were able to clean up the dried nail polish — almost all, with the exception of Big Green, didn’t lighten this stain in the slightest. A convincing advertisement for your local nail salon, but also a good reminder that some especially tough stains need professional attention.
Ease of use
The best needed to stand out for being simple to operate. Some water tanks, like the Hoover Power Scrub, were a breeze to fill, while others were just plain awkward. The Dirt Devil’s tank, with a tiny opening located in the center of the back, meant we had to keep closing and flipping the tank upright to see if we had reached the fill line. We paid attention to special features that would make our lives easier, like included rinse modes that didn’t require us to refill the tank.
After setup, the worst offenders required another person to help position the tank, or spilled water and solution on the carpet, hallways, and our shoes (we’re talking about you, again, Dirt Devil). Fortunately, we found setting up the Hoovers, Bissell Big Green, and Rug Doctors to be straightforward and spill-free.
After cleaning the carpet, we also needed to clean the machines — much easier said than done. This is when the great vs. not-so-great designs really became apparent. Many didn’t have removable brushes or nozzles so we could clean out built-up gunk from the machine itself, so we had to tip them over, get down on the ground, and poke around in all the nooks and crannies with… whatever we could find.
The worst models took way longer to clean off than they took to clean the carpet, while the best, such as the Hoover Power Scrub and Bissell PowerLifter, came with detachable parts for easy rinsing, or extra tools for cleaning difficult areas.
The 3 Best Carpet Cleaners
- Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Washer FH50150PC -
Best for Everyday Cleaning
- Bissell Big Green Professional Grade Carpet Cleaner 86T3 -
Best for Deep Cleaning
- Bissell PowerLifter 1622 -
Best Budget Pick
Why we chose it
Easy to use
At 18 lbs, the Power Scrub was one of our lightest contenders and has the maneuverable heft of the average upright vacuum. Its clean-water tank holds solution and water in separate compartments, which is a pretty nifty feature when compared to the manual (read: messy) measuring out of specific quantities required by other cleaners. The Power Scrub was also one of only two contenders (the other being the Hoover Dual V) with an auto-rinse feature that didn’t require us to trudge back and forth over damp carpet to refill the clean water tank.
Simple to clean
The Power Scrub was not just the easiest machine to clean with but also the simplest to clean out. Both its nozzle and brushes popped out easily for rinsing, which felt like a blessing after having to kneel on the floor and dig around in the other Hoovers’ and Bissells’ dirty brush rolls (the Bissells' unique side bristles also actually just rubbed any loose dirt and debris into the carpet during cleaning).
Abundance of accessories
During assembly (which simply required screwing in the cord holster), we were surprised to see the Power Scrub came with a veritable army of cleaning tools. Most of the other machines came with one or two (an extended hose and upholstery tool being the most common), but the Power Scrub’s mesh bag contained: an extended hose, upholstery tool, crevice tool, stair tool, and powered scrubbing hand tool.
Points to consider
Unimpressive “heated cleaning”
The only feature that flopped was the much emphasized “heated cleaning” capability that claimed to quickly dry the carpet with heated air. We didn’t feel any real differences in carpet dampness post-cleaning, so this feature seems somewhat irrelevant.
Why we chose it
Combatted deep stains
As we rinsed out the last water tank and surveyed our weary carpet, it was clear that the Bissell Big Green Professional Grade Carpet Cleaner 86T3 had met the challenge of our malicious staining. Where light orange and brown spots clung stubbornly to the other test patches, the Big Green impressively eliminated all traces of marinara sauce and chocolate syrup within five minutes. To our surprise, it did even better than the Rug Doctor, which was disappointing considering that brand’s reputation for deep cleaning.
Pre-assembled and simple to use
The Big Green’s large, smooth surfaces and clear-stacked clean and dirty water tanks (1.75 gallons each) made cleaning a breeze. It also won bonus points in a few other categories: It came fully assembled, and included a 12-foot hose and six-inch-wide tool for scrubbing upholstery, stairs, and weaker stains by hand.
Points to consider
Heavy and expensive
However, the Big Green’s pure stain-lifting power comes with a few serious trade-offs: At 40 pounds and an average price of around $400, it is both the heaviest and most expensive of our contenders (compared to the overall averages of 25 lbs and $242). The Big Green is definitely the Hulk of carpet cleaners, and at that size and price point, we think it might make more sense to rent when needed rather than buy. If you often need to tackle deep stains (especially greasy or sticky horrors), though, the Big Green is up for the challenge.
Why we chose it
Light and simple
The Bissell PowerLifter 1622 is a barebones machine that will clean your carpet without being too heavy on your arms or pocketbook. At just 16 lbs, the PowerLifter was easy to push around even for petite testers (who, by contrast, struggled to continually push the Bissell Big Green and Rug Doctors around even for a few minutes). Testers agreed that it was about as hefty as “a lightweight vacuum,” and didn’t cause discomfort with extended use.
A satisfying clean
We were pleasantly surprised to find that despite its size, the PowerLifter cleaned about as well as the more expensive Hoovers and Bissells (although none came close to the Big Green). As long as your main concern is just lifting light to moderate stains from your carpet, the PowerLifter will do a decent job for a great price.
Points to consider
Tough to clean the cleaner
While the PowerLifter’s nozzle popped off easily for rinsing, we found a bunch of fuzzy, dirty gunk caked on the roof above the non-detachable brushes that was hard to access and pretty gross. We didn’t bear too much of a grudge against the PowerLifter for this, though, since we discovered that cleaning almost all carpet cleaners can be unpleasant and difficult and we were able to scrape most of it off.
Guide to Carpet Cleaners
How to get the most out of your cleaner
Vacuum first and last
For a deeper clean, vacuum your carpet before cleaning. Jeff Bishop, Director of the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), told us it’s important to begin the cleaning process with “dry soil removal – vacuuming carpet to remove as much hair and lint, and particle soils (e.g., sand, quartz, gypsum, limestone, carbon, clay) as practical.” After the carpet has been cleaned and is completely dry, vacuum again to pick up any remaining debris.
Slower is better
Move the carpet cleaner slowly and deliberately. The slower you go, the more thorough the cleaning process will be.
Blot, don’t rub
If you get a deep stain on your carpet, quickly blot off the excess (don’t rub it in with water, which will spread the stain and embed it more deeply into the carpet fibers). Vacuum off any remaining loose debris, and then run over it with a carpet cleaner as soon as possible.
Always finish with rinsing
Rinse your carpet after cleaning to remove any traces of detergent, which can leave your carpet hard and sticky if it dries. Some machines auto-rinse while cleaning, but make sure to read your user manual carefully to see if you have to refill the clean water tank.
Clean your cleaner
To keep your machine running properly, clean the brushes regularly. Make sure it isn’t clogged up with debris, especially hair.
Keep it consistent
Angie’s List suggests deep cleaning your carpet every 12-18 months, depending on the size of your household and how heavy soilage tends to be. For higher-traffic areas, you may need to clean more often.
Carpet Cleaner FAQ
Are carpet cleaner chemicals safe?
Because cleaning solution is a fragranced product, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose exact ingredients. While we didn’t experience any problems with the cleaning solutions during cleaning or disposal, you can protect yourself and the environment from potential allergens and toxins by making sure the area is well-ventilated and that you dispose of wastewater down a toilet or sewer-connected drain.
Does your carpet warranty allow cleaning?
Many carpet warranties require deep cleanings every 12-18 months, but in some cases, using a carpet cleaner can actually void your carpet warranty. Be sure to read the fine print. Natural fibers, such as wool and silk, and especially thick fabrics (think: shag rugs), should always be professionally cleaned. Synthetic fibers, such as nylon and triexta, can and should be cleaned regularly. According to Jeff Bishop, Director of the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), “Around 95-97% of carpet today is made with minimally absorbent synthetic pile fiber (i.e., nylon, polyester, triexta, olefin). Fibers are polymers – plastics – and water doesn’t harm them.” Just be careful not to over-wet your carpet, or neglect rinsing out residual detergent, which might cause your carpet to quickly resoil.
Should you buy a carpet cleaner?
Homeowners with children or pets may want to invest in a carpet cleaner. If you live in a small apartment, rent, or don’t need to deep clean your carpet more than once a year, it’s probably more economical to rent a machine. For cleaning natural fibers or especially large and difficult stains, it’s safest to call in the pros, who use much more powerful machines and chemicals.
When should you clean your carpet cleaner?
To ensure a longer life for your carpet cleaner, clean it after each use, especially focusing on the brushes and tanks, since dried-up gunk can form and become much more difficult to clean off later on. If you’re renting a carpet cleaner, make sure you clean all parts thoroughly to avoid being charged a fee upon return.